Thursday, April 17, 2008

Four Months Later

It has been four months to the day since we returned to Michigan. After a frenzied first week of errands and unpacking, we drove the minivan down to southern Illinois to spend a quiet Christmas with John’s parents. (We had to take the minivan because the Evo was stuck at the Mitsubishi dealership with a stripped screw on one front brake caliper, damaged by the service technician during a brake inspection!) We left Scotty at the kennel but took Cody with us because we didn’t want to lock him up in a concrete cell after the stress of his recent world travels. He weathered his first 9-hour car ride quite well, perfectly content to sleep on the floor of the back seat, resting his head on the console between our seats.

We spent a quiet New Year’s Eve at home, feasting on foie gras and caviar in front of the TV, and woke up to nearly a foot of fresh snow on the ground. John re-painted the office and baby room during his holiday, using environmentally-friendly paint so the baby and I wouldn’t inhale any dangerous fumes. John started work back at Chrysler on January 2nd, where the most common reaction from his colleagues seemed to be, “Are you back?” He still has mixed feelings about the future of the company but is pleased with his current position and pending projects and is planning to stick it out for the time being.

We had to wait nearly a month for our shipment to arrive from Germany. (Actually it took three weeks, but we asked them to deliver it a week later so we could get new carpet installed in the upstairs bedrooms.) Our shipment got stuck at customs for a while and I was terrified that they were going to rip holes in our boxes and go through our things, but all of our possessions arrived unscathed with the exception of one broken picture frame. In the meantime, I spent most of my days unpacking our belongings in the basement, rehanging artwork, and getting caught up on my writing. In the days after our shipment arrived, the house was a minor disaster area. I tried to tackle one project at a time – first the kitchen, then our bedroom closet, then the bookshelves in the living room. We went on a field trip to Ikea and bought new (smaller) office furniture, since our office will now have to double as the guest bedroom. Wandering the floors of Ikea (laid out exactly like its German counterpart) and listening to everyone speaking English was somewhat surreal. Not too surprisingly, we were comforted to hear a few German voices in the crowd.

It was a relief to finally get our kitchen put back together. I discovered a few items that I had left behind for the sake of saving space, like my favorite soup pot and steamer, and wondered what I had been thinking when I packed them away. I got started cooking normal meals again, but we soon discovered that our old kitchen left a lot to be desired. I had been spoiled by the well-designed cabinetry of our modest kitchen in Germany, and was now noticing everying that was dreadfully wrong with our kitchen in Michigan. We had been talking about remodeling the kitchen for a long time and we finally decided that now would be as good a time as any – especially before a baby arrives on the scene! I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few weeks researching cabinets, countertops and appliances, collecting cost estimates, and, finally, choosing a designer to oversee our project, which will get underway in May.

Planning for our summer arrival has also been high on my agenda. Finding an OB/GYN practice, signing up for childbirth classes, and researching strollers, car seats, cloth diapers, and baby furniture have been all-consuming activities. Friends have donated boxes of maternity and baby clothes, which are much appreciated given that we have suddenly had to face the reality of a single income with no cushy expatriate perks. My dream is to start working on my novel again very soon. I know that my life will be turned topsy-turvy by the baby, so I hope to get some serious work done on my book this spring.

Readjusting to life in Michigan has not been as difficult as I expected. Perhaps we really had been mentally preparing ourselves for the move over those last few months, or maybe it was simply spending that interim week in an unfamiliar hotel environment that eased the transition. Coming back to our own house and belongings certainly made the transition easier as well. In the first few days we experienced the usual shock of suddenly being able to understand everything going on around us. In Germany, we had grown accustomed to being able to tune out surrounding voices and conversations in public places because it required such intense concentration to understand what was being said. When we walked into a store or restaurant here in Michigan, the impact of dozens of voices all speaking English simultaneously hit us almost like a tangible blow. After the initial shock, I have found that I enjoy being able to communicate effortlessly with the people I encounter in my day-to-day activities, and it is a huge relief not having to worry about understanding strangers every time they approach me with a mundane question.

Perhaps hardest of all has simply been getting used to the American lifestyle again. I am bombarded by the all-pervasive consumerism…the endless strip malls and fast-food restaurants, the constant barrage of advertising, the obsession with gadgets and the overwhelming desire for more and more “stuff.” I find it hard to believe how much of that “stuff” we have sitting right here in our house. After existing for two years on a relatively stripped-down lifestyle, I feel like there is an enormous amount of stuff that we can do without…and we are planning a summer garage sale to get rid of it all!

I am sickened by the “super-size” mentality of our culture. Everything is so big here…the roads are enormously wide and packed with hulking SUVs, houses and buildings and parking lots sprawl out over what could be open space…every product we buy comes in sizes several times larger than their European counterparts, whether it be milk, toothpaste or laundry detergent. Our neighbors produce enormous amounts of garbage week after week, while we continue to put one small bag in our can, still surprised that our garbage is actually collected more than twice a month (and we get a whole garbage can all to ourselves!). I have to remind John that only certain plastics go in the recycling, and the rest has to go out with the trash.

These initial impressions are starting to wear off as time goes on, but I think the pared-down experience of living in Germany will forever leave an impression on us. Here, they have to pound “reduce, reuse, recycle” into our heads. In Germany, it’s just a way of life.

I won’t lie; life is certainly easier here, and not only because of the lack of a language barrier. It’s fun to shop at that new gourmet grocery store down the road (on Sundays no less!) and know that I can pop over to a store at pretty much any time of the day or night when I run out of something. It is wonderful to be closer to friends and family again, who have welcomed us warmly back to the States. But I think John and I agree that we would have easily made the decision to stay longer in Germany if it had made sense for our future. We just “fit” there. We will never regret having taken the plunge, putting all of our trust in each other and establishing a new life for ourselves in a foreign country. We took on new challenges, traveled to amazing places, and made wonderful, lifelong friends. We learned a lot about ourselves and gained a new perspective on the rest of the world in the process.

Perhaps most importantly, I learned that there is much more to life than a full-time job. Burnt-out and ready for a change, I embraced the opportunity to become a Hausfrau with enthusiasm, and tried to take the best advantage of the free time at my disposal. I once thought that I would dedicate a good part of my life to a career in environmental protection. While that field will always be an important part of my life, I now know that I can gain fulfillment from many other activities. I’ve started down the road of writing as a profession, and hope to continue that pursuit as we start a family. Returning to America with a baby on the way has given me a new challenge to prepare for, and I welcome this next phase of that wondrous adventure called life with open arms.

One thing remains true: wherever we live, and whatever I do, part of me will always remain the Hausfrau.

For my readers who have come all the way with me, I thank you. I hope you've enjoyed the ride.

18 December: Cody Comes Home

John took his car down to the tire shop first thing in the morning to swap out his old flat-spotted tires. We ran some errands and then left in the mid-afternoon to drive the minivan to the Lufthansa Cargo facility near the Detroit airport, where we were scheduled to meet Cody around 4:00. We arrived about fifteen minutes early, checked in with the Lufthansa people, and waited in the car until a brown minivan showed up with Cody’s crate. We watched them unload Cody into a huge warehouse but couldn’t go see him until we took his paperwork over to the customs office at the airport for clearance. We had to sneak by and hope that he didn’t recognize us on our way out. (Yes, this is a totally convoluted process. We had to pick up Cody’s paperwork at the cargo facility, drive to the airport to clear customs, and then come back to the cargo facility to retrieve him. The customs agents never actually see the dog.) Meanwhile poor Cody had been in his crate for something like twelve hours, and we just hoped that he could hold out a little longer.

We parked at the terminal and found the customs office, where I handed over Cody’s pet passport and shipping paperwork to a surly female customs agent behind a glass window. She flipped through the passport for a minute and then said that there was nothing there to indicate that Cody had come from the U.S. I responded that we were working with a pet moving company and were not aware that we needed to provide such information. She insisted that we either had to provide evidence that he had come from the U.S. originally, or proof that he was worth less than $1,500 (there are additional requirements for show animals and those brought into the country for breeding purposes). Obviously we had none of this documentation, since all of Cody’s old shipping paperwork was still somewhere in Germany with our belongings, and proving what we paid for him would require searching through five-year-old files at home. I was furious and about to give the customs agent a piece of my mind, when John stepped in and said that we should call Air Animal (but not before telling the woman that he believed she was dead wrong about the requirements). I was fortunately able to reach our Air Animal rep on the phone immediately, despite it being close to 5:00. She was dumbfounded by the customs agent’s demands (her exact words were, “No one has ever asked for that information before”), but was quickly able to retrieve Cody’s shipping information from September 2005 and faxed it to the customs office. After several anxious minutes, the woman called us back to the window, handed back Cody’s paperwork with his customs clearance, and told us we were free to go.

Fuming but relieved, we returned to the Lufthansa facility, handed our paperwork and $40 in cash to the woman at the counter, and were finally free to be reunited with Cody. He had some water in his dish and sprang out of his crate, clean, dry and happy to see us. We quickly took him outside to piddle, amazed that he had made it all the way across the ocean yet again without having an accident in his crate. We loaded him into the minivan for the drive home, which took considerably longer in rush-hour traffic. Cody ran right up to the front door like he’d never been gone.

Both pets seemed to refamiliarize themselves with our house almost instantly, finding all of their favorite lounging spots and enjoying the view out to the back yard. Shipping Cody back and forth across the big pond has frankly been one of the most stressful parts of this whole process, but he has come through with flying colors both times!

17 December: Return to America

Leaving Stuttgart...Take Two. A shuttle bus picked us up in front of the hotel this morning and returned us to the airport, where we had to go through the check-in process all over again. After a short wait, we boarded the DaimlerChrysler Airbus for the very last time and settled into our comfortable seats for the 8-hour flight across the Atlantic. It was a non-eventful trip with spectacular views over the icefields of Greenland and Canada. As we descended over the sprawling suburbs of metro Detroit, I noted that it didn’t look quite so dreadful when dusted with a fresh coat of snow…but it was still awfully flat. I think I will be missing the topography of southwest Germany for a long time!

We had no trouble getting Scotty and all of our luggage through customs at the Pentastar Aviation terminal; they didn’t even want to see my tin of foie gras. A white Chrysler minivan rental care was waiting for us in the parking lot to take us through the shabby streets of Pontiac and, finally, home.

My friend’s husband had thoughtfully cleared our driveway and front walk of the six inches of snow that had fallen since yesterday. We quickly surveyed the exterior damage to our gutter and garage roof caused by a massive tree limb that fell in our front yard last fall, then let ourselves in the front door. We were met by a rather rank mildew smell that turned out to be emanating from the bathrooms. Our house had been empty for nearly seven months and all of the water had evaporated from the toilets, leaving behind a very nasty science experiment. Fortunately a little bit of cleanser and bleach went a long way toward alleviating the stink. Friends had plugged in our fridge, turned up the heat, and even left us a supply of essential groceries, so all we really had to do to get the house up and running was to turn on the gas hot water heater and the water itself. We wandered around the empty house, overwhelmed by all the work ahead of us…bringing all of our personal belongings up from the basement, putting our office back together, turning the guest bedroom into a nursery, unpacking our shipment from Germany once it arrives…Meanwhile, John wasted no time in uncovering the Evo (our Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, which has been stored in the garage) and getting it prepped to start the engine for the first time in nearly two and a half years. To his great pleasure (and a little surprise), it roared to life on the very first try!

By the end of the day we were exhausted, mentally and physically, and ready to put off all the work until tomorrow. Our high bed, fat mattress, and American comforter felt a little funny to us as we drifted off to sleep.

16 December: Auf Wiedersehen...Just Kidding!

We were up at 7 am, giving us plenty of time to enjoy a relaxed breakfast. Beth and Axel arrived at 8:45 and helped schlep all of our luggage down to their B-Class. We managed to fit everything in, just barely, and headed off to the airport. After we got all checked in (we only had to open up one of our six pieces of luggage for the security check, thank goodness), we returned to the outer waiting room to say goodbye to Beth and Axel. Beth and I tried to keep it short and sweet but I started crying anyway. I didn’t really fall apart until we went through the X-ray and into the big waiting lounge, where I had a good cry in the corner.

We sat around for half an hour or so and didn’t see the plane out on the tarmac, which seemed a bit odd. Then one of the staff members came in and started talking to a group of Americans that included a high-up female Chrysler executive whose name John recognized. We couldn’t quite hear what they were saying but we were pretty sure it involved a snow storm and finding hotel rooms. Sure enough, our worst nightmare had come to fruition – they had canceled our flight due to a massive snowstorm slated to hit the Midwest today. Apparently we were fated to spend one more day in Germany! Fortunately John had had the foresight to tell the hotel not to clean our room until after noon, in the event that our flight was canceled and we needed to stay one more night. (This was very important because we had left the cat's litter box in our room to be thrown out!)

We were in a bit of a daze as we re-collected our luggage (fortunately they were able to store two of our bags and the two cardboard boxes at the airport) and boarded a shuttle bus for the return journey to SI-Suites. We spent the afternoon at the hotel; John napped on the couch and Scotty curled up in a ball in the armchair, seemingly unphased by his brief journey to and from the airport. I called Beth to break the news and we decided to get together for one last dinner downtown. We took the U-Bahn one more time and met them at a tiny Italian restaurant a few blocks from the Königstraße. It ended up being an excellent meal (we all had different pasta dishes from the daily menu) and I was much happier spending our last evening with friends. Beth and Axel gave us a ride back to the hotel, taking us up the famous Weinsteige through the vineyards up and out of the city. This time we managed not to shed any tears.

The extra time in the hotel gave me a few more minutes to reflect on our time in Germany. I will miss so many things about daily life here…the sound of the church bells ringing out across Botnang at 7 am, noon, and 6 pm sharp…the cheerful yellow U-Bahn cars gliding up and down Schlossstraße…the lovely Altbau apartment houses lining the gently curving streets of Stuttgart-West….the Deutsche Post workers in their cheerful yellow uniforms, riding their matching yellow bicycles laden with the daily mail…the tidy piles of gelbe sacks lining the sidewalks on recycling day and the friendly garbage men who always smiled and said hello…the toll of the vegetable man’s bell as he walked up and down our street bellowing “Kartoffeln!”…all of the wonderful people (and their dogs) that we met walking in the woods (we never got a chance to say goodbye to Tessie’s parents or Itzy’s mom)…the tidy, carefully tended gardens of Botnang, dripping with flowers straight through October…Frau Dörr’s friendly smile every time I knocked on her door to ask a favor…the view of the Birkenkopf and the wooded valley from our balcony…the sun shining through the leaves of the chestnut tree outside my office window…life is in the details, and I hope I can etch these details into my memory forever.

Of course, I won’t miss hauling my groceries up two flights of stairs every week. I won’t miss Kaufland’s lousy vegetable selection, but I will miss the friendly cashiers at Neukauf. I'm looking forward to having a gourmet grocery store a few blocks from our house, but it won't be quite the same as our pilgrimages to the Markthalle for cheese and seafood. I’m looking forward to having a dryer and air conditioning again. John won’t miss being cooped up on Sundays, but I had a certain fondness for the enforced peace and quiet. It will be nice to do yard work any time I want, and not when it’s dictated by a Kehrwoche sign hanging outside our door. I will really enjoy not having downstairs neighbors who turn the hall light on and slam the door in the wee hours of the night and/or morning. Actually, having our own house and yard again will be a real pleasure! But these are all such little things, minor inconveniences really. When you look at the greater scheme of things, we’ve got very little to complain about. We came to Germany with open minds and a sense of adventure, and we leave feeling fulfilled and satisfied with our experience. We may not have mastered Deutsch, but we mastered living life to its fullest.

Auf Wiedersehen, Deutschland. And I mean it. I will see you again. But visiting as a tourist will never be quite the same as the two years and four months that we spent living as expatriates in this fine country.

15 December: A Long Day Downtown

After yet another relaxing breakfast from the buffet, we turned in our E-Class wagon at the Führpark just around the corner from SI-Suites. John had filled out an accident report explaining my little foul-up last weekend, but since the office was closed, we just left the paperwork in the car. As we walked back to the hotel, I commented, “That’s probably the last Mercedes we’ll ever drive.”

We had plans to spend the rest of the day in downtown Stuttgart. I had a couple of goals in mind: to visit the Staatsgalerie (the state art museum) and see the Schellenturm, the oldest building in Stuttgart. We took the U-Bahn downtown (there is a station conveniently located right behind SI-Suites) to Charlottenplatz and went to the museum first – a bold, contemporary building that is one of Stuttgart’s better-known architectural landmarks (see photo, right). Unfortunately a large portion of the museum is currently closed for renovations, so we just got to see the temporary exhibition, which provides a snapshot of their collection. It was a nice way to seem some excellent artwork in an hour’s time, which is about as long as we can stand to be in an art museum anyway. Then we strolled over to the old neighborhood called the Bohnenviertel (literally “Bean Quarter”) where I finally got to see the Schellenturm, the last surviving remnant of Stuttgart’s medieval town wall (see photo, right). It is tucked between other buildings and now houses a restaurant; you’d never know it was there if you didn’t know where to look.

We headed back towards the Rathaus and spent an enormous amount of time trying to find the perfect sheets at Breuninger, the biggest department store in the city. Finally a saleswoman came to our rescue and suggested some Italian cotton sheets in a classy subdued stripe. (When she saw the style that I had originally picked out – but couldn’t buy because there was only one set – she frowned and told me in no uncertain terms that they were tacky!) What was even funnier was that we told her we were flying to America tomorrow and she said, “But…you’re German?” I’m pretty sure she was not a native German speaker but it was still pretty funny to be taken for Germans on our last day.

After trying to lose my purse by leaving it at the cash register (could baby brain be settling in already??), we tried to get into Café Planie for kaffee und kuchen but it was packed to the rafters, so we settled for crêpes from the Weihnachtsmarkt instead. We strolled up and down the Königstraße, took pictures around the Schlossplatz (photo, right), bought a book about Baden-Württemberg at Witwer, and then made our way over to Calwerstraße to find someplace to eat an early dinner. We scoped out several restaurants and decided to try a trendy-looking place called Weber that had a rather innovative “Schwäbisch fusion” menu. We managed to snag a table in the rear as long as we promised to free it up for an 8:00 reservation. We both ordered drinks (they had a virgin caipirinha on the menu for me) and waited for our pasta dishes to arrive. And waited. And waited. Finally I flagged down another waitress and inquired as to the whereabouts of our food. She looked a bit startled, disappeared for a moment, then returned and told us that our waitress never put in our order and had gone off her shift! We finally got our meals about an hour after we ordered. We were offered a complimentary dessert or coffee afterwards but we had pretty much had our fill of the place by then. The food was good, but it was a bit of a disappointing experience for our last dinner in Stuttgart.

Back at the hotel, I got into a bit of a panic because our Air Animal rep (the company that is handling Cody’s shipping arrangements) had sent me an email earlier today saying that we should have a complete copy of Cody’s E.U. pet passport for identification purposes when we pick him up in Detroit. His passport was of course with him at the Tierhotel, so I called this morning and left a message for Herr Ratibor asking him to fax a copy of the passport to the hotel. When we got back to the hotel this evening, we picked up the fax but discovered that we were missing the page containing Cody’s health certificate. We composed an anxious e-mail to Herr Ratibor asking him to resend the page in question, plus instructions to fax it to a Kinko’s in Michigan in case he didn’t get our message before we left on Sunday. That was all we could do, so we tried to settle down and get a good night’s sleep before our big day of traveling.

A few more pictures from our last day in Stuttgart:

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

14 December: Sweet Memories of Stuttgart

This morning I enjoyed one final, solitary breakfast at the SI-Suites buffet and then headed over to Botnang to take a few pictures of the neighborhood and give the car a bath. I even said goodbye to the nice young man who works at the gas station – the one who helped me out when my smart got stuck in the carwash. He seemed genuinely sorry to hear that we were moving back to the States and asked if we would ever be coming back.

I spent the rest of the day in downtown Stuttgart, wandering around the Weihnachtsmarkt and doing a little shopping. I snacked on a crêpe slathered with Nutella, bought some wooden Christmas ornaments, and searched several of the big department stores for sheets. We are bringing our European bedding (comforters and pillows) back to the States with us, and I wanted to buy a nice new set of sheets to fit them. Unfortunately I couldn’t seem to find a pattern that I thought John and I would both like, so I’ll have to drag him around tomorrow to pick something out. I did have success in the form of a cool pair of winter boots. I had admired the boots in question several times at a shop near the Rathaus and saw that they were on sale for a good price, so I went in to try them on. I had an extremely successful transaction all in German with the nice saleswoman. I told her my feet were always cold in the winter and she assured me that my toes would stay nice and warm in these Gore-Tex boots. When I came up to pay for them, she asked me if I wanted them in the box and I said no, explaining that they would be going in my suitcase back to America on Sunday. All in all, it was a triumphant day for my German skills on my second-to-last day in Stuttgart!

As I drove up Schlossstraße on the way out of the city, I involuntarily began to cry. I think this is the first time I’ve gotten truly emotional about leaving Germany. It just seemed to hit me all at once: no more lovely strolls along the Königstraße, no more people-watching in the Schlossplatz, no more convenient U-Bahn rides or trips to the Markthalle or shopping for flowers and asparagus at the spring market in Schillerplatz…and that’s just what I will miss about the city itself. In my miserable state, I decided to drive over the hill to Schloss Solitude and take a walk around. It was dusk, and the palace was all lit up and glowing golden against a pale gray sky. I walked in a big loop around the palace and stopped to take some pictures. Through the arched portico I could see the long line of lights stretching away into the distance, a straight shot all the way to Ludwigsburg. John called during my wandering and said he was ready to be picked up, so I made my way slowly back to the car and headed off to Sindelfingen and the Mercedes complex for the last time. We had dinner at the Biergarten again and got most of our packing done this evening so that we could enjoy our last day in Stuttgart tomorrow. This included stuffing two large cardboard boxes full of alcohol (a couple of bottles of wine from our 2006 trip to France, several Rieslings and Eiswein from the Mosel, and a bottle of whisky from Scotland), pet paraphernalia, and miscellaneous gifts, books and other items that had not made it into our shipment.

I’ve put a few pictures of Botnang and Schloss Solitude on Flickr:

13 December: Apartment Handover

John picked me up around 11:00 this morning to go over to the house for the official handover of our apartment. We were supposed to meet Monika, our relocation rep from Professional Organizing, but she was late. While we waited, Frau Dörr arrived. I had warned John that I thought Frau Dörr was going to have her own painter come, because she didn’t understand that Daimler was bringing their own contractors. Sure enough, both painters showed up, along with a guy from the cleaning company, and quite a bit of confusion ensued. I basically told John to keep quiet until Monika arrived; it wasn’t our problem, after all. Monika explained the situation, but of course Frau Dörr still wanted to use her painter because he had done all of the work on the house previously. Monika finally said that he was welcome to put in a bid for the work as well. I was just happy that we didn’t have to do any of the talking!

So, the apartment handover is just a formality – give the place a once-over and hand over the keys, right? Wrong! We were not prepared for them to go over the house with a fine-toothed comb, but this is Germany, so what did we really expect? I had thought we were in good shape: the floors and walls were all in good condition; I left the picture-hanging nails in the walls so they could patch the holes; and the place was virtually spotless. There was some discussion about the fact that we were leaving some of the curtains and light fixtures behind and I explained for the umpteenth time that we had not been able to sell them and the new tenants were welcome to use them or get rid of them, but we were not taking them down and throwing them out ourselves!

Then the cleaning guy came out of the kitchen and said he wasn’t sure they could get the oven door clean. I can’t for the life of me remember the condition of the oven when we moved in, but there was certainly some baked-on gook on the door that I couldn’t get off. There was much discussion over whether the new tenants had looked in the oven or not (I don’t think they did) and finally Frau Dörr pointed out that the tenants were buying the kitchen from us, so the issue was really between us and the tenants. Monika suggested that we might want to talk to them about whether an “adjustment” was called for the in the price of the kitchen and I wanted to blurt out, “They’re already getting it for a steal!” Let’s just say there is no way I am giving them any money back for a dirty oven door.

Other miniscule details were pointed out, like some marks on the doorframes left by the pets brushing up against them. Monika stated matter-of-factly that painting the walls was included in Daimler’s refurbishment package, but painting the doorframes was not. I pointed out that I thought the marks could simply be wiped off, but Monika insisted that if painting was required, we would have to pay for it. There were also a couple of dings in the wall in the outside stairwell from carrying furniture up and down – these were also our responsibility. Finally, we wound up down in the basement, where Frau Dörr muttered something about the washing machine not being exactly spic-and-span. Oh brother!

While we were at the apartment, Dorota F. called to say she was still at the hospital with her mother and was not going to be able to make it. I made arrangements with Frau Dörr to leave Dorota’s things in the garage so she could pick them up later.

Suffice it to say, we were feeling rather deflated by the time the meeting finally came to an end. Usually we are the ones to leave everything in better condition than we found it. Heck, I’ve always done a better job of cleaning apartments when I’m moving out than is called for. We still don’t know how much of the damage we will be held responsible for, but hopefully it won’t break the bank.

We handed over the keys and the garage door opener and had Monika take a picture of us with the Dörrs. Despite the regrettable disagreement over the kitchen, which left things on a bit of a sour note, we could not have asked for a better relationship with our landlords. I know plenty of people in Germany with absentee landlords who have a heck of a time getting even minor repairs completed. We were lucky enough to live next door to our landlords and have a very amiable friendship that encompassed trading dog-walking duties, two memorable dinners, fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes, and many enjoyable conversations. I know Frau Dörr would have liked me to do more work in the garden, but we never used the yard and frankly I did a lot more of the clean-up work than our downstairs neighbors ever did. In the end, we parted on a high note and well wishes were extended all around.

And that was it – we walked down the familiar stone steps one last time, shut the gate behind us, and said goodbye forever to our little green house in Botnang.

I drove John back to work and then headed downtown to have my last heisse Schokolade with Beth at Café Deli. This was our last chance to talk face-to-face about my novel, and Beth gave me the best advice in the world: to stick with the story that I wanted to tell, not to worry about what other people thought, and to stay true to myself.

This evening we went over to Jürgen’s house for pizza and beer with Gert, Volker (another of John’s friends from work) and Jürgen’s girlfriend Sonja. Volker used to work at smart and John had told him how much I loved my smart forfour, so he made me a wonderful little pen & ink drawing of the Brabus. I was very touched! Jürgen also gave us a nice coffee-table book about the Nürburgring. The highlight of the evening was driving the Nordschleife in Jürgen’s elaborate video-game setup, which includes a real car seat and realistic pedals. I only did one lap because quite frankly, it made me sick to my stomach! I think I will satisfy myself with memories of driving on the real track. I think Jürgen was about ready to cry when we finally said our goodbyes. He is a great guy and we are really going to miss him!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

12 December: Our Dog of Deutschland & More Moving Chores

I had to get up ridiculously early to eat breakfast with John and then drive him to work. We had already put Cody’s crate in the back of the car (it barely fit, lying on its side), so I just had to come back to the hotel to pick up Cody and then headed off to the Tierhotel. We arrived around 10:15 and of course everyone was as happy to see Cody as he was to see them. Little does he know that this will be his last romp in the moat at Schloss Unterriexingen! A nice young woman came out with a cart to help me bring in the dog crate and I also donated Scotty’s scratching post to their cat room. I had a nice chat with Herr Ratibor, reviewed all of the instructions for Cody’s delivery to the shippers, and suggested to him that they build a satellite dog castle in Michigan. He wished us well on our journey back to the States. I gave Cody a big hug and a kiss; this would be the last time I’d see my dog of Deutschland. Next time I see him, we will be in Michigan, meeting Cody at the Detroit airport.

On my way back to Stuttgart I decided to stop and do something I’ve been meaning to do for ages: have a look around the town of Markgröningen, not far from the Tierhotel. I had heard it had a nice main square and some lovely half-timbered houses, and indeed it does, including a rather impressive Rathaus. I parked the car outside the town walls and took a short stroll around; the town was quiet and some people gave me odd looks as I took a few pictures.

Next I stopped at Shannon’s in Feuerbach to give her Beth’s almost-complete memory book. Shannon will have to put the finishing touches on it and give it to Beth later. We chatted for a bit and then I set out for Beth’s; she called me en route and was just leaving the doctor’s office, so I actually got to her apartment before she did. I showed her my latest ultrasound photo, which actually looks vaguely humanoid – all 19 mm of it! We made brownies for John’s last day at work (or rather I watched while Beth made brownies), drank pink grapefruit tea, and I showed her how to make perl stitches and bind off her knitting, then got her started on her first scarf. The brownies came out of the oven and we rewarded our hard work with a couple, still gooey and warm.

Sometime during my travels today I received a message on my cell phone from the lady whose car I had hit over the weekend. I called her back while I was at Beth’s (just in case I needed a back-up German speaker) and tried to explain to her what had happened. She just wanted my insurance information, which I didn’t have handy since the car was five flights of stairs away. I told her the car was insured through Daimler and that I would call her back later with the information.

I had to leave at 5:30 to get back to Botnang because I was now supposed to meet the rug buyer at the house at 6:00. Dorota F. (the woman who bought my smart wheels) had called while I was at Beth’s to say that her mother had been in a car accident and she wouldn’t be able to come this evening to pick up her things (she was buying a lamp and a small crate); we arranged for her to come tomorrow at noon during our apartment handover instead. The carpet buyer never showed up and I never heard another word from them, which left me feeling rather peeved! I also left two messages for the girl who was buying my large dresser, telling her that this was her last chance to pick it up, and I never heard from her either. Suffice it to say that I was getting really frustrated trying to get rid of these last few items!

John had gone go-karting this evening with some guys from work and was supposed to get a ride home with Jürgen; when he finished he called and I was still at the house, doing some last-minute cleaning. I was in a bit of a panic about the dresser and the rug, so I went next door because Frau Dörr had mentioned something about her painter taking an interest in a few of our things. I interrupted the Dörrs having a traditional dinner of cold meats, cheese, and bread in their cramped little kitchen with the tinkle of classical music coming from an antiquated radio sitting on a shelf. I explained the whole situation and Frau Dörr agreed to call the painter for me. I offered him the rug, dresser, and our two ceiling fans for 50 Euro. He took them of course (who could say no to a deal like that?), to my infinite relief. Frau Dörr offered me a couple of her freshly-baked Christmas cookies and Herr Dörr fixed me a slice of bread and ham, and they insisted that I sit down with them until John arrived. We returned to SI-Suites and had a late dinner at the Irish pub there, which has a pretty darn good hamburger by European standards.

11 December: A Long Walk, Goodbye to Good Friends & Hello to Our Tiny New Family Member

After driving John to work, I had another relaxing breakfast and then spent the rest of the morning at the hotel. I finally signed up for internet service, for which I had to shell out a whopping 88 Euro for the week, so I could check our e-mail. Apparently they haven’t heard of free wi-fi yet.

I drove Cody over to the house in the middle of the day and took him for our last, long walk together in Germany, as I will be dropping him off at the Tierhotel tomorrow. I followed my usual running route, having finally calibrated my pedometer this morning, and discovered that I had been going about 3.5 miles on my typical 35-minute runs. It was a characteristically soggy December day, befitting my mood as we passed all of the familiar landmarks for the last time: the water treatment plant, the little wooden hikers’ shelter, the forester’s house along the Dog-o-bahn, the parking lot at the top of the hill, where more often than not a motorcyclist was learning to maneuver between orange cones, the trail crossing at the winding road out of Botnang, the straight path leading to Schloss Solitude, the long downhill that was always a pleasant respite at the end of my run, and the narrow footpath leading back into our neighborhood. I took some pictures and video of Cody on the trail and tried to commit to memory all of the details of this final jaunt through my beloved woods. I wonder if Cody will miss the freedom of running off the leash for an hour and a half every day. I know that I will miss the peace and solitude of the forest, disturbed only by the occasional deer or hawk, and the sound of traffic rushing by on Wildparkstraße. We didn’t see any of our old friends on our walk, but I will remember them fondly – Taro the Weimeraner, Tavalo the Bearded Collie, Tessie the long-haired Dachsund, and all the rest.

I drove Cody back to the hotel, where I discovered that the housekeeping service was finally cleaning our room. I’m sure they were horrified that we had kept the “do not disturb” sign on the door for several days: What??? No clean towels!?!? Evelyne called around 2:30 to tell me she was home and I could come over. I didn’t get there until nearly 3:30, and Oda arrived a few minutes later. We drank jasmine tea and ate lebkuchen while Oda told me about her debate competition in Lindau (they won three out of their five debates). Before I left, Evelyne pressed a copy of Der Wixxer into my hands, and I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it won’t work on our American DVD player.

After earnest goodbyes and promises to keep in touch, I left at 4:30 to pick John up at work and then we headed into downtown Stuttgart for my doctor’s appointment. This was the big day, when we would hopefully officially confirm the pregnancy with an actual heartbeat! By the time we arrived my bladder was seriously complaining, but fortunately one of the two designated spaces outside the doctor’s office was vacant so I didn’t have to search for a spot (or hit any other cars in the process). I had my blood drawn and then we waited for nearly half an hour to see Dr. Linckh. The appointment itself was short and sweet, but incredible! I had another vaginal ultrasound and she quickly zoomed in on a dark mass, brought it into focus, and there it was, a tiny fetus, its little heart galloping along. It took my breath away – I guess I wasn’t actually expecting to be able to see it beating. I don’t think I really believed in this pregnancy until that moment. Dr. Linckh said everything looked great; her assistant filled out some information in my Mutterpass (a practical little booklet that all pregnant German women carry listing their vital statistics and pre-natal test results) and sent us on happily our way. We returned to SI-Suites and dinner at the Biergarten, where I determined that their Käsespätzle is not homemade!

Friday, April 11, 2008

10 December: Stuck in the Hotel, the New Tierarzt & a Holiday Party

I had to get up with John at the excrutiatingly early hour of 6:45 this morning so I could drive him to work (yes, please tell me how sorry you feel for me). Traffic was heavy on the Autobahn and it took a full hour to make the roundtrip to Sindelfingen and back to SI-Suites. I had taken Cody for a short walk before we left so I went straight to breakfast and enjoyed a nice relaxing meal with my book.

I sat in the hotel room for the rest of the morning and early afternoon getting caught up on my journal. (Cody, meanwhile, has settled in quite nicely at SI-Suites; see photos.) It had been a glorious sunny morning with very dramatic clouds, but it started raining again (I think it has rained every day for the past two weeks) and I really had no strong motivation to go outside. It is difficult to believe that one week from today we will be back in Michigan, permanently. I have been so busy these past few weeks that I haven’t had time to get depressed about leaving Germany, but it is finally starting to become a reality. People ask me if I’m excited about going “home” and I say no, which is often met with surprise. I have to explain that Michigan isn’t really my home; I have no family there, my friends are all working in a field that I am no longer a part of, and we will be returning to a house that needs an enormous amount of work. If I wasn’t pregnant things would be looking very sad indeed, but at least now I have something new and exciting to look forward to. It’s been reassuring to get the occasional peppy e-mail from my friends saying they are anxious for me to come back.

My one task today was to take the pets to the vet to get their health certificates signed in preparation for the trip home. (The basic requirements for re-entry into the U.S. are an up-to-date rabies vaccination and a medical clearance less than 10 days before the date of travel.) I didn’t end up leaving for the vet until almost 3:00 this afternoon because Scotty hid under the bed and I had a heck of a time getting him out. No amount of tunafish or kitty treats would make him budge. I think he knew something was up, because I put on Cody’s seatbelt harness first. I eventually had to pull the bed away from the wall and Scotty mauled me with his little needle-teeth, which required some first-aid before I finally got both pets out of the room. I eventually loaded everyone safely into the car and headed over to Botnang.

I had noticed several months ago that our Tierartz had apparently retired, as the practice had been taken over by someone new. I just hoped that the new guy had experience with the international health certificates. I walked in the door and noticed that the whole office had a bright new blue-and-yellow paint job. U of M fans would be pleased. I was shown into the office and met the new vet, an amiable young fellow with a friendly blonde assistant. He understood exactly what I needed and got to work on Scotty first. Unfortunately he had some unpleasant news; he said that Scotty was very stressed (apparently beyond the usual cat-at-the-vet stress level) and that he really needed to have a full blood work-up. We had noticed that Scotty had lost quite a bit of weight recently but he had not been acting otherwise ill, so we didn’t really know what, if anything was wrong with him. He isn’t a very happy-go-lucky cat to begin with, and of course his world has been turned upsidedown in the past few days, so I wasn’t surprised that he was more stressed than usual. The vet agreed to sign the health certificate because he knew that I needed to get the cat back to the States, but he urged me to take Scotty to the vet as soon as we got home to Michigan. Ever-robust Cody, on the other hand, checked out fine, although the vet did have the gall to ask whether he came to Germany without a tail (tail docking having been illegal in Germany for some years)!

I had to rush to get to the house by 4:00 because someone named Kerstin was supposed to meet me there to pick up the dining room rug. She never showed up, so I left, quite annoyed, at 5:00, took Cody for a short walk in the dark, and drove the pets back to the hotel. I left to pick up John just before 7, and then we drove downtown to meet everyone in his department for a holiday party at an Italian place called Sallini. We had some trouble finding it and were pretty much the last people to arrive. John’s boss had arranged the party and was covering the tab, but apparently he had to bill it as a “seminar” because they aren’t supposed to be paying for meals out.

Ironically, it was not until my last week in Germany that I finally met all of John’s co-workers and his infamous boss. I could tell you stories about John’s boss, but I’d probably get in trouble. Let’s just say that he is a bit…interesting. Gert and Jürgen were there but otherwise the faces were all new. Out of maybe 25 people, I think there were three women. I had to go around the table shaking everyone’s hands and smiling, doing the part of the dutiful wife. I ended up sitting next to an English guy named Mark. After several minutes of silence, he finally opened the conversation by asking what octopus tastes like (I had reached for a bite of it from the huge antipasto platter in the middle of the table). I ended up having quite a lengthy conversation with him about cars and driving on the Nürburgring. He owns a Lotus Elise but hasn’t gotten up the nerve to drive it on the ‘Ring yet, so I believe he was quite impressed by my relatively extensive experience.

The food was only so-so and I found myself getting tired rather quickly. I had a short chat with John’s boss’ boss, a rather stiff fellow who didn’t have much of interest to say, but at least he tried to make polite conversation. Finally John’s boss made a little speech and they presented John with a nice gift – a framed photograph of the whole department, with everyone holding up letters spelling out “Good Luck John.” Apparently not everyone had been available for the photo, so some of the graphic gurus had Photoshopped in the missing staff. A few people eventually started to trickle out, so we were finally able to make our exit. We didn’t get much of a chance to talk to Gert and Jürgen, but we will be going to Jürgen’s for dinner on Thursday night, which I’m sure will be a lot more fun.

9 December: No More Wardrobe & A Minor Incident

After breakfast at SI-Suites, we left Cody and Scotty at the hotel again and headed over to the house to complete the move-out. There’s nothing quite like the hollow echo of an empty house. Our place looks a lot bigger without any furniture in it. A guy named Dieter arrived at 10 am sharp to pick up the wardrobe. He came well-prepared with a battered leather toolbag and a large (by European standards) van. He was surprised at the excellent condition of the wardrobe and pleased that we helped him take it apart and carry it downstairs. It actually came apart pretty easily – Dieter knew just how to detach the hinges; hauling it all down three flights of stairs was the hard part. He gave us an extra 25 Euro for helping him out, which I thought was quite nice of him, especially since he ended up sitting in our driveway for another hour taking all of the hardware off so the wood wouldn’t get scratched up on his drive home. Beth and Axel arrived in their new B-Class to pick up their stuff just as we finished carrying all the wardrobe pieces downstairs. They already own two chairs that match our dining room set, so Beth had laid claim to our chairs several months ago and it was relatively easy to convince them to buy the matching table as well. I also convinced Beth to take most of my Asian cooking ingredients, including some fish sauce, crystallized ginger, and coconut milk. (We had been warned by the moving company not to put a speck of food or alcohol in our shipment to ward off the prying hands of U.S. Customs agents. Apparently if they find something edible or otherwise suspicious in your shipment, they are liable to break into all of your boxes whilly-nilly, destroying your possessions in the process.)

We took a nice walk in the woods near SI-Suites this afternoon, but the weather was pretty lousy and we turned back once it started raining in earnest. We had plans to meet Beth and Axel at 6:00 for dinner and we left a little early since we were also dropping off an old suitcase and our kitchen rug for their Sperrmülle (garbage) collection. (You can’t just leave large household trash out on the street in Germany; you have to call the city and arrange for a special pick-up. Fortunately Beth and Axel had a pick-up scheduled in a few weeks and had agreed to take a few items from us.) We unloaded the stuff and then I drove off with John to find a parking spot. I found a really nice spacious spot on the street a few blocks away and then proceeded to do something incredibly stupid. I turned the car around and pulled up very close to a car parked in front of me, with the intention of putting the car in reverse and backing into the proper position along the curb. Except I was pointing downhill and this particular manual E-Class is especially difficult to get into reverse, and it doesn’t have a handbrake, so I had no way to hold the car in place while I engaged the clutch. John took this opportune moment to point out, “You know this car doesn’t have a handbrake,” which only succeeded in putting me into a nervous state. Needless to say, I didn’t get the car properly into gear and ended up surging forward, stalling the car in the process, and slammed into the car in front of me. It was an old green Mercedes and I did a number on its rear bumper. There was hardly any damage to our car, fortunately, aside from a slightly bent license plate. I called Beth to find out what I should do. Beth was at a loss so she handed the phone over to Axel. We decided against calling the police (heaven forbid!) and I just left a note with my contact information on the car’s front windshield.

I decided to put the incident out of my mind and enjoy our dinner at an ancient Stuttgart restaurant, supposedly one of the oldest establishments in the city. We shared a cozy table in the back of the restaurant and settled in for a traditional feast of maultaschen, schnitzel, and apfelstruedel. Afterwards we said goodbye to Beth and Axel (they will be seeing us off at the airport next weekend so we were able to put off the official parting a bit longer) and I managed to get us back to the hotel again without further incident.

8 December: Emptying of the Home

We feasted on the fabulous breakfast buffet at SI-Suites this morning and then headed back to Botnang to preside over the emptying of our house. (We left Cody and Scotty behind at the hotel with the “do not disturb” sign on the door.) Jürgen, Sonja, and Uwe’s son arrived around 11:00 with a large refrigerated van to move out all of their purchases. Don’t ask me why or how they managed to borrow a refrigerated van, it’s just significant because a refrigerated van has a lot less space in it than a regular van, and they really had to do a stellar packing job to get everything to fit. We said goodbye to a lot of big items in one fell swoop: our beloved red microfiber couch, which had been the bright and comfortable focal point of our living room, two coffee tables, our TV, stereo, and TV stand, the china cabinet from the dining room, the small red convertible sofa from the office, and a variety of smaller items. I told Jürgen I was pregnant (to explain why I was unable to lift heavy objects) and I swear it brought a tear to his eye! We also managed to offload a bunch of odds and ends on Jürgen and Sonja that we hadn’t been able to sell to anyone, including our fire extinguisher and some random kitchen items.

We had a slight lull before the next round of pick-ups. A stylishly-dressed young woman in stiletto-heeled boots came with a couple of friends in tow to pick up our bed in the early afternoon. (I had taken the bed off of eBay because I thought that someone from John’s work was going to buy it, but that fell through. Then someone from the Stuttgart Newcomers group took an interest in the bed, but was unable to make the trip out to Stuttgart to look at it. I was getting rather desperate when, quite fortuitously, an eBay bidder contacted me to ask if the bed was still for sale, and I was able to negotiate a price of 100 Euro.) They were able to take the bed apart in no time and somehow managed to get the whole thing in their car, mattress and all.

Another eBay buyer arrived a short while later to pick up the bookcase from the office, for which he happily gave us 23 Euro. Brenda was next – she took a wooden crate, bathroom accessories, and a few other small items, along with some of my herbs and spices. And finally Katrina arrived with her boyfriend Sven to pick up our blue Ikea chair. They don’t have a car, so Katrina had already taken pieces of the matching ottoman home on the train over the course of several visits to my house. I felt badly that they had to lug the chair back with them in pieces all the way to Ludwigsburg, but they didn’t seem to mind.

By the end of the day, we were down to only a few large pieces – our bedroom wardrobe, which will be picked up tomorrow morning, my low dresser, the living room rug, and a few other odds and ends. An eBay buyer is supposed to pick up the rug on Monday afternoon. Last week John spoke to the guy who bid on the Spannungswandler (that’s the voltage converter), but he lives a couple of hours away and hasn’t been able to figure out how to get here to pick up. John told him that the converter was worth a hefty sum of money and it was really worth the trip since he was only paying 6 Euro for it, but we aren’t holding out much hope that he will come. I think John will be able to offload it on Jürgen if we can’t get anyone else to take it.

We haven’t managed to sell any of the light fixtures, not even the ceiling fans, so we are just going to have to leave those to the next tenants, along with some of the curtains. Which reminds me, after that huge fiasco with the Dörrs over the price of our kitchen, we finally settled on a price of 1000 Euro, only to find out later that the new tenants are actually going to buy the kitchen from us instead of the Dörrs. The Dörrs of course told them that we would sell it for 1000 Euro, when we would have naturally liked to get more for it! Oh well. I suppose we should be happy that we don’t have to rip the kitchen out and leave it on the street for the junk scavengers!

It was dark and drizzling by the time we got back to SI-Suites, so we could only give poor Cody, who had been cooped up in the room all day, a meager evening walk around the empty fields near the hotel.

7 December: Farewell to the Big E & Return to SI-Suites

It’s been one heck of a day. This morning I followed John to Möhringen to drop off the E-Class at 8:30 am. He turned in the paperwork and we bade our fond farewell to the Big Blue E. It’s highly unlikely that we’ll have another car quite like it in our lifetime. John may have gotten some funny looks from his Mercedes co-workers (E-Classes are not typically driven by 30-something design managers) but we sure had a lot of good times in that car. It carried us safely through the wilds of Wales and Scotland, up and down the length of Germany, and you simply couldn’t ask for a more comfortable, capable Autobahn cruiser. As evidenced by our previous E-Class’ performance on the Nürburgring, it handles pretty nicely too. And we have the Big E’s superb braking system to thank for saving me from colliding with the Polizei on our way to Rallye Deutschland last July. It was definitely tough to say goodbye.

We high-tailed it back to the house, as the movers were scheduled to arrive at 10 am. Being good Germans, they were already there when we arrived, even though it was just after 9:00. Fortunately we already had everything ready to go for them; all we had to do was make sure they didn’t pack up anything that we didn’t want sent back to Michigan. There was one funny moment when John pointed out (in our now near-empty kitchen) that I had forgotten my beer bottle collection. As you may recall, we had about 40 different beer bottles lining the shelves on top of our kitchen cabinets. I had no intention of bringing them all home, but I did want to take a representative sample. I snatched a few bottles and carried them into the living room, where one of the movers was packing up pictures. I held out the bottles and said, “I forgot these!” He looked doubtfully at the bottles, his eyes wide, and said, “All of them?” I laughed and said, “No, just these!”

John left for work when it looked like everything was under control. The movers were quite efficient, packing up all of our stuff and loading it up in the van in less than three hours. A little while after they left, Carole came by to pick up the rest of her purchases (her husband had come by for the black leather chair and ottoman last night), including the living room rug and coat rack.

This afternoon I took Cody for a walk and then waited for John to come home around 5:00. We packed up our suitcases, loaded up the dog and cat, and drove over to Möhringen to check in at SI-Suites, back where it all began so long ago. We were given a nice spacious suite on the sixth floor – much better than the small room we had on the first floor last time around. This time we have a kitchenette, a separate bedroom, a dining table, and a comfortable sitting area. We only had a short time to settle in before we had to drive back to Botnang to await a couple of people who were picking up furniture. First Axelle’s husband arrived to pick up the dining room buffet, my small dresser, the iron and ironing board, and a bunch of smaller odds and ends. He ended up having to make two trips, but he managed to fit it all in. A woman named Marita arrived with a friend to pick up my large dresser at 7:30. She had contacted me via the Stuttgart Newcomers email group and agreed to purchase the dresser for 40 Euro. Unfortunately, she took one look at the dresser and determined that it wouldn’t fit in her car. She would have to return next week with a larger vehicle. She gave me 25 Euro to secure the sale, and promised to call when she had the transportation lined up.

Finally we got to call it a day and headed back to SI-Suites and a much-deserved dinner at the Biergarten. Tomorrow, the great move-out gets underway in earnest – we have a whole string of people scheduled to come by the house, starting with Jürgen and Sonja in the morning and then a steady stream of people all afternoon.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

6 December: Movie & Cookies

Speaking of German bureaucracy, something strange happened this week. I went outside one morning and discovered that someone had put up two “no parking” signs on the sidewalk in front of our house. These weren’t any flimsy cardboard signs either; they were the real heavy-duty metal street signs, mounted in heavy plastic blocks. (The symbol for no parking in Europe is a blue circle outlined in red, with a red diagonal line through it.) A piece of paper was attached to each sign indicating that the parking restriction would be in force on the date the movers will be here – Friday, December 7th from 8 am to 1 pm, including the sidewalk. We have no idea when the signs appeared or who put them there, but they looked quite official!

This morning on my way to Evelyne’s I ran into the lady up the street walking Sophie the Newfoundland, who has grown from a fluffy puppy into a dignified adult, but still retains her youthful charisma. Sophie’s owner had obviously noticed the moving signs and asked about our imminent move back to America. We chatted for a few minutes and I couldn’t help marveling at how much my German has improved since that first day when she asked if Cody was a boy or a girl and I accidentally said that Cody was a girl!

Today marked my last morning walk with Evelyne and Marlene. It has been getting harder and harder to drag myself out of bed in the morning (although I should be thankful that the only pregnancy symptom I have suffered from so far is fatigue!) but I didn’t want to disappoint Evelyne by telling her I couldn’t go walking anymore. Nevertheless, I was secretly grateful that this would be my last early morning outing. Marlene was so busy talking that I don’t think she realized it was the last time I would see her. I promised Evelyne that I would come over next week sometime to visit her and Oda one more time.

Today we picked up our interim car, a silver diesel E-class wagon, in preparation for turning in the E-class tomorrow. Then this evening I picked up Beth and we took the E-Class for its final trip out to Emily’s house in Schwieberdingen for movie night and the annual IWC Cookie Exchange. To participate in the exchange, you are supposed to bring three dozen cookies and you get to take home a selection of cookies from each of the other participants. Beth had kindly volunteered to make my cookies for me since I’ve had quite a lot to keep me busy lately, and she seems to be on a baking kick. I was, however, responsible for bringing the movie: The Princess Bride. It seems that several IWC members are long-time Princess Bride fans, and Emily and I have been repeating our favorite line from the movie ever since our last movie night (“My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”). I mentioned that I had a copy of the movie that we could watch, so long as Emily scheduled one more move night before I left! The movie was well-received by newbies (including Anne W.) and of course loved by all (me, Emily, Beth, Shannon). Unfortunately we didn’t have time to watch the many fabulous extras on my special “Buttercup Edition,” including interviews with the stars some twenty years later. Finally we had to drag ourselves away. I said a last goodbye to Emily and came away with a huge bag of cookies to get us through our last week in the hotel. I dropped Beth off and returned home for our very last night in the Botnang house.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

5 December: IWC Brunch & My Last Jazz Class

I had missed the IWC’s annual international holiday brunch last December, when I had to go home to Michigan to close up our house, so I was really looking forward to attending this year’s event. Originally I was planning to make my grandmother’s fresh apple cake, but I ran out of time and ended up bringing leftover chocolate chip cookies instead. I didn’t have to worry: this was an opportunity for the culinary expertise of the IWC membership to really shine, and we had the most incredible spread of international delights laid out in our usual meeting place at Café Merlin in Stuttgart-West.

Anne M. was greeting guests when I arrived. She took one look at me and said, “Oh, I may have thrown out your nametag already.” Leave it to sometimes-caustic Anne to make me feel like I had already been erased from the register! Inside, Anne W. and the other members of the IWC committee were still busy setting up the tables and passing out pieces of postcards depicting Stuttgart monuments; each guest was supposed to find the matching half of their postcard from those scattered amongst the tables to determine where they should sit. I found my place at a table of four, along with Carmel and Anne M., but my partner’s seat was vacant. Meanwhile more and more women were arriving, and I kept busy rounding up the participants from Beth’s party so they could sign her memory book before she arrived. I kept looking back at my table, but no one had claimed the seat across from me. Finally Beth came strolling in – just after I had stashed her book out of sight – and was given one of the last remaining postcards. Was it mere coincidence or odd fate that her card matched the one on the table across from me? We giggled about it like schoolgirls.

The IWC committee had put together a quiz about important women in history and we all spent a few minutes filling these out in our teams of four. Beth and Carmel did an astonishing job of coming up with answers to the questions, which included such items as, “How many women have been awarded the Nobel Prize?” Our table ended up with the most correct answers, for which accomplishment we were awarded the price of going through the buffet line first. (Good thing, too – you don’t want to keep a couple of pregnant women away from their food.) The feast was simply splendid – pastas and dips, salads and skewers, cookies and cakes of every imaginable variety, representing cuisines from around the globe. We ate and ate, and ate some more. Anne gave a short speech, raffle prizes were drawn, and donations were made to our charity, a women’s shelter in Stuttgart.

Beth had to rush off to a doctor’s appointment afterwards, but I didn’t want to leave. Finally, as the crowd was thinning out, I said my goodbyes to those members that I wasn’t likely to see again and then returned to the sign-in table, where I solemnly removed my IWC nametag for the last time. Anne M. told me to keep it.

This evening I attended my final jazz class. (I figured it would be pretty tough to get all the way out to Feuerbach next week with only one car between me and John, and we would have plenty of other things on our plate to worry about.) It was the Wednesday class, which was my least favorite of the two, but I had a good time and even mastered most of the combination. Marilena gave me a big hug at the end and wished me well. I can’t emphasize enough what a wonderful experience this has been and how happy I am that I worked up the nerve to take dance classes here. I only wish I had done it sooner. I have vowed to keep some element of dance in my life from now on.

On my way out, I stopped at the front desk to let them know that I was moving back to the U.S. and needed to cancel the automatic monthly withdrawal from my bank account. I ended up talking to the same bleached-blonde girl that I had spoken to on the first day that I walked through the doors of the New York City Dance School. I thought I explained my situation to her well enough, but she rattled off some long explanation about going to city hall and getting an official letter. Most of it was lost on me, so I sheepishly asked her to explain it again in English. She said that I had to get a letter from my city hall stating that I was leaving the country in order for them to cancel the bank order. She acted like I should know all about such a letter. I was dumbfounded, but figured that I could talk to the relocation people at Daimler and they would surely know what to do. (Apparently this is standard procedure when cancelling this type of membership in Germany. I honestly wonder what one does if one is simply unhappy with the service? What if I just wanted to stop taking classes, or switch to another school? Obviously the idiosyncracies of the German bureaucracy are still mostly a mystery to me. I can only be thankful that I have had the luxury of shouldering the relocation people at Daimler with most of the burdensome dirty work!)